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P2P start-up snags almost every film in Hollywood

Web video services gold rush

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Comment Every news source that covers digital media this week followed the Wall Street Journal in heaping praise on start-up Vudu that has managed to get most of Hollywood, not counting Sony, to give it access to major motion pictures for downloading over the web, using a peer to peer architecture.

But apart from the non-technical press release, there is no data on just how this system works, and it seems to have an inherent contradiction in that it doesn't require a PC - you can just link the set top directly to a broadband line, for the princely sum of $300.

Well, at least that might be a contradiction. The set top, in order to be a P2P client, is almost certainly a stripped down PC of sorts, and it must use some operating software, and it must need some considerable storage - not only so the customer can store their movies DVR-like, but so that collectively all of the devices out there can store the entire 5,000 film video library multiple times over, hopefully encrypted, scattered among the various client devices so there are some benefits from using P2P.

It isn't essential that a P2P architecture sits on a PC, but that's what most of them are written for, and we suspect that at $300 this device is, conceptually at least, rather PC-like.

Vudu said it has closed deals with seven major motion picture studios: Disney, Lionsgate, New Line, Paramount, Twentieth Century Fox, Universal Studios, and Warner Brothers, plus 15 independents.

"We've created the product everyone wants, the product many have tried to build, and, until now, the product no one has succeeded in delivering," said Tony Miranz, founder of Vudu. "We've brought together the best team in Silicon Valley to give movie lovers the ability to watch thousands of movies instantly, without leaving their homes."

Miranz and Chairman Alain Rossmann say the team is made up of technology veterans from TiVo, WebTV, Openwave, 2Wire, Slim Devices, OpenTV, and Danger and that the company has funding from Greylock Partners and Benchmark Capital.

Well, while we are waiting for the beta program to unfold and for some smart techie to rumble what's under the bonnet of this start up, our expectation is that it's all Windows Media file types, using Windows Media DRM. And that means this device can and will be hacked, unravelling the entire libraries in a single place, virtually overnight. After all, Windows Media DRM has already been compromised on PCs. Still, let's not judge it until we know the answer.

What it will need is a hardware encryption key that is tamper proof to avoid that, and Vudu may have done that. We don't see the studios happy to give away that many movies unless they are safe, but on the other hand, that depends on the release window. Are these films past their DVD sell by date and well into their long tail cable re-run period? In which case there is no risk.

How come Apple has only managed to license a few hundred Hollywood films and a start up gets the lot? The company is rumoured to have raised around $21m in VC funding.

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